“You know something, Tyler, you’re not so special. We all go crazy at some point. Happens to every cop that gives a crap about what he does. That’s why we’re alcoholics. That’s why our women leave us. We’re broken toys.”The above quote was uttered by hardened police chief Gene Hunt in ABC’s Life on Mars, a series about present-day cop Sam Tyler who gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. Sam doesn’t know why he’s in 1973, if it’s a real experience of time travel or it’s all in his head. In many ways, I’m beginning to think of this series as an interesting and engaging exploration of a common human experience: those times when we find our lives turned upside-down, when nothing seems to be the way it should be, when we feel lost and far from anything familiar. Like Sam, we try to make sense of it all—of who we are and why we are here—as we try to find our way home.
--Gene Hunt, “Tuesday’s Dead” episode of Life on Mars (see the full episode here)
In a series that explores this, I find Hunt’s comments particularly interesting—as well as a profound echo of a deeper truth. While Hunt is talking about cops in particular, in the context of the series his statement describes pretty much everybody he runs into. And that’s interesting in today’s culture, where a popular belief is that people are basically good, though capable of doing terrible things. The biblical take on human nature, however, is chiefly the opposite: we are “broken” though capable of doing virtuous things. According to a biblical worldview, humans are flawed and warped. We are bent. But at the beginning of the Story, we were created in the image of God and all was good, and that leaves us with echoes of his love, right-ness and goodness. Folks like C.S. Lewis say this is what gives us a basic sense of right and wrong. This is the part of us that knows good is supposed to win over evil, that the world and we ourselves are not supposed to be broken but whole.
It makes sense that a policeman (or anyone else who “gives a crap” about confronting injustice in and bringing right-ness into the world around them) would utter an observation about the brokenness of people. Spending our days in the trenches, fighting for right-ness and just-ness will bring us into constant contact with darkness, evil and brokenness—not only in others but also ourselves, both in terms of woundedness as well as our own propensities towards dark acts.
Yet Hunt’s observation isn’t without hope. In fact, I think we can find it in Hunt himself. Hunt couldn’t continue to do what he does if there wasn’t something in him that believed this brokenness and darkness isn’t the way it supposed to be, if there wasn’t something in him that believed goodness was supposed to prevail. In a previous episode, Hunt declared that certain things (in that particular case, the murder of children) don’t happen “in my kingdom”—and if they do, those that do them will be hunted down and rooted out. It’s interesting that Hunt uses the language of “kingdoms.” Dallas Willard uses the concept of our individual kingdoms in his teachings about our own influence over the world around us, and how by bringing our own personal kingdoms in line with God’s, we share in God’s divine work of healing, redeeming, restoring a broken world and people with his life and love and right-ness in the realm of our influence. Of course, Hunt isn’t intentionally aligning his kingdom with God’s, but he is struggling to align it with justice and right-ness. He is trying to keep his kingdom—his realm of influence on the world around him—on the side of good in a battle with darkness and evil. He believes, at some level, that good should prevail—both in the world around him and in himself.
And that, I think, is an echo of our creation in the image of God. God longs for good and right to prevail—and he’s working in that direction always. That we would resonate with that longing makes sense.
Hunt’s comments are only part of the Story, however. God doesn’t leave us broken and striving against a tide of darkness that seems to threaten to overwhelm us and the world. In fact, he’s already won that battle. And he offers us a chance to not just be repaired but be made new, the way we were created and intended to be. Through Jesus, God’s life and love and right-ness exploded outward, swallowing death and darkness.
In this middle part of the Story, we work out this new life—this “salvation”—as we go, working with God to leave behind more and more of the old and dark and plunge ever further into the new, to live large out of the abundant and wide open spaces of God’s grace and life. It’s a journey that takes us our whole lives.
And it’s a journey that is inextricably connected to those around us. Hunt follows up his comments to Tyler by telling him that what makes them different from those in psych wards is that “we keep each other sane.” We need each other. We can’t do it alone. We were never meant to do it alone. We were created to live this life together.